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Death of former first lady Barbara Bush ends 73-year marriage

She met George Bush senior at a Christmas dance when she was 16 and he was 17.

The death of Barbara Bush ends a relationship that began when she was 16 and her future husband 17.

The pair were married three years after their meeting at a Christmas dance and stayed together for 73 years, becoming the longest-married couple in presidential history.

“George Bush knows how I feel,” Barbara Bush had said.

“He is the hero… He is my hero.”

First lady Barbara Bush reacts after President George H.W. Bush accidentally stepped on her toe while boarding Air Force One (Charles Tasnadi/AP)

George H.W. Bush was at his wife’s side when she died and had been holding her hand all day, according to Jean Becker, chief of staff at the former president’s office in Houston.

The couple’s relationship was a true love story, which granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager described on Monday as “remarkable.”

The former president “still says, ‘I love you Barbie’ every night”, Ms Hager said on NBC’s Today, where she works.

They had six children, including Mr Hager’s father, former president George W. Bush, making Barbara Bush one of only two first ladies to also be a presidential mother.

The other was Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, the nation’s second president, and mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president.

The two luckiest people in the world, and when all the dust is settled and all the crowds are gone, the things that matter are faith, family and friends Barbara Bush, describing her marriage

George H.W. Bush, 93, has described the mother of their six children as “the mainstay, of course, the parent who was always there to help solve the daily problems and emergencies of teen and pre-teen life”.

In her 1994 memoir, Barbara Bush describes her and her husband as “the two luckiest people in the world, and when all the dust is settled and all the crowds are gone, the things that matter are faith, family and friends.

George H.W. Bush sits on a sofa with his wife, Barbara, and their children. George W. Bush sits at right behind his mother. Behind the sofa are Neil and Jeb Bush. Sitting with the parents are Dorothy and Marvin Bush (AP)

“We have been inordinately blessed, and we know that.”

The former president was a naval aviator in training when they met.

“I’m not much at recalling what people wear, but that particular occasion stands out in my memory,” he said in his autobiography.

The band was playing Glenn Miller tunes and he asked a friend from Rye, New York, if he knew the girl across the room in the green and red holiday dress.

The friend introduced him to Barbara Pierce, a publisher’s daughter from Rye who was going to school in South Carolina.

The next song was a waltz.

“Since I didn’t waltz, we sat the dance out. And several more after that, talking and getting to know each other,” George H.W. Bush said.

“It was a storybook meeting.”

Within eight months, they had met each other’s families, were engaged in August 1943 and married on January 6  1945, four months after Mr Bush was shot down over the Pacific.

He had been the Navy’s youngest aviator when he got his wings and carried the name Barbara on his Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber.

I have climbed perhaps the highest mountain in the world, but even that cannot hold a candle to being Barbara's husband George Bush senior

After the war, he attended Yale and they moved to Texas.

Her husband made his mark in the oil business as the couple grew their family and turned to politics, a journey that would take them around the world and into the White House.

“You have given me joy that few men know,” George Bush wrote to her, according to a collection of letters published in 1999.

“I have climbed perhaps the highest mountain in the world, but even that cannot hold a candle to being Barbara’s husband,” he also said.

Their marriage also has endured more serious trials.

A daughter, Robin, died in 1953 of leukaemia a few weeks before her fourth birthday.

President George H.W. Bush, and his wife former first lady Barbara Bush, pictured in 2012 Charles Krupa/AP)

Mrs Bush recalled a bout of depression in the mid-1970s.

“Night after night, George held me weeping in his arms while I tried to explain my feelings,” she said.

“I almost wonder why he didn’t leave me.”

Just last year, allegations surfaced that Mr Bush, who for more than five years has used a wheelchair for mobility, inappropriately touched more than a half dozen women as they stood next to him to take photos.

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, left, chats with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, right, as Barbara Bush looks on (Herbert Knosowski/AP)

Through family spokesman Jim McGrath, Mr Bush issued repeated apologies “to anyone he has offended”.

“George Bush simply does not have it in his heart to knowingly cause anyone distress,” Mr McGrath said.

Also last year, they both ended up in the same Houston hospital, the former president with pneumonia, his wife with bronchitis.

In 2013, she told C-Span in an interview that they pray aloud each night “and sometimes we fight over whose turn it is”.

In the same conversation, she said she did not fear death for herself or “my precious George”.

“I know there is a great God, and I’m not worried,” she said.

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